UK: Education policy 'leaving children intellectually impoverished'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jul 1 16:20:23 UTC 2008

Education policy 'leaving children intellectually impoverished'
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Last updated: 11:02 AM BST 01/07/2008

Education policy in England is leading to the "cultural and
intellectual impoverishment" of a generation of school children, a
leading headmistress has warned. The introduction of new-style courses
- teaching children how to use English and mathematics in the work
place - has been at the expense of academic rigour, said Bernice
McCabe, head of the independent North London Collegiate School.
She said children's enjoyment of subjects at school had taken a back
seat in recent years as ministers use education as a vehicle to boost
their basic skills.

Mrs McCabe, whose school gained the best A-level results in the
country in last year's Daily Telegraph league table, condemned the
"woolliness" of the present system in which subjects were "relegated
to the bottom of the pile". The comments were made at an annual summer
school for teachers - staged by a charity founded by the Prince of
Wales. The Prince's Teaching Institute was established in 2002 to
encourage staff to rediscover their passion for subjects, such as
English, history, geography and science.

Mrs McCabe, the course director, said it was "not always easy" for
teachers to focus on academic subjects because of political

It comes just days after it emerged that schoolchildren will be able
to study travel brochures, magazines and biographies under a new-style
"functional" GCSE. The course - an alternative to traditional English
literature and English language - is designed to develop students'
"understanding of language use in the real world".

But Mrs McCabe said: "By far the most serious consequence of this
emphasis on functionality in education policy is that it may lead to
the cultural and intellectual impoverishment of a generation of school

"Certainly one of the regular conclusions of our previous summer
schools has been that pupils are encouraged by being challenged, that
it is possible for them to enjoy 'difficult' and that problem-solving
can be popular. By having high expectations and ensuring that all
pupils, irrespective of their backgrounds, are taught the aspects of
our subjects that we most value rather than those that are immediately
accessible, we can raise standards.

"I believe strongly that academic standards are also improved by
offering more ambitious and challenging lessons, rather than those
that are merely 'relevant' and accessible."

She highlighted the Government's Every Child Matters policy, which
attempts to bring health, education and social services policies under
one policy banner.

Ministers say that, under the reforms, all children should become
"successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens".

Mrs McCabe said: "It is hard to quarrel with any aspect of these
aspirations except the most important one: their woolliness."

She insisted subjects had been "relegated to the bottom of the pile"
and labelled as "statutory expectations" in the Every Child Matters

The Prince's summer school, staged at Cambridge University this week,
will focus on the subjects of science and geography. The charity said
the preoccupation with teaching skills may be harming children's
understanding of global issues such as population growth and climate
change. Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, is due to address the

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families
said: "We agree that children should enjoy learning for learning's
sake and we provide pupils with a wide varied curriculum.

"Young people learn about major moments in British history such as the
two world wars, study our great historical figures and their works
such as Shakespeare and enjoy more sport than ever before. However, we
make no apology for placing an emphasis children mastering the basics
in maths and English. This allows them to learn more quickly and
easily in every subject."

Story from Telegraph News:

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